Being the last one of those who was there from anywhere near to the beginning who is still kicking, I feel somewhat obliged to tell the story. Now, I ain’t guaranteeing I got everything straight, being as I’m no scientist and I wasn’t even there for the first six months of the whole thing, but I’m the closest thing we got, so here goes- It was way back at the beginning of what they used to call the twenty-first century, when science and faith were struggling, like a couple of wet cats in a sack- screeching and scratching but not doing much, other than hurting each other. Science and faith, they were struggling for the right to tell people how to live and how to think. On the one hand, the religious leaders of the day were asking scientists to choose which theories to pursue and what technologies to make available by how they fit into dogmatic schemas, which has a tendency to stifle original thinking. On the other hand, science was still working in the very artificial construct of absolute knowledge and fact, trying to exist outside of just about everything else, damn the consequences.In my opinion, which is dubious at best, it was a problem of boxes. The faithful wanted to fit everything new into some boxes built a few thousand years earlier and the scientists- the scientists kept ignoring that imaginary box. You know the one- the one with all the horrible things inside along with hope, a cat and some kind of radioactive poison. Wait- was that two different boxes? Maybe it was just two ways of looking at the same box. Either way, the point is, no matter how much you learned before you opened the box, you never knew for sure what was in the box until you did open it and then, good or bad, it was out or dead or both. Anyway, I guess we oughta’ start with the Doc since none of this would have happened if he hadn’t done what he did….
So, there was Doctor Dennis Mears, wearing a white coat and bustling around his laboratory in the Biological Sciences Building of a small but prestigious New Jersey university. He was tall, pale, thin and graying up top. He was almost fifty and looked every day of it. All that aside, that particular day of it was a very good one, a day he had worked years for, the kind of day that would stick in his memory as the bittersweet transition that it was, a day that would see the realization of his work.
A perfect body lay, gently breathing, on a gurney before the doctor as he measured vital signs for what might have been the thousandth time in the subject’s short life. He knew all that there was to know about that particular body, which was to be expected, since he’d created it. Rechecking some test or other and adding yet another detail to his notes, he missed the change in breathing and the soft flutter of eyelashes, as his life’s work woke for the first time in that century.
“Hwase banem aefrebeages clipigende . . . acennen thuseo frithmaeg forhwy . . . breostcearu ebroga beoth herin foclond . . . andsace abide aescholt minhwaet,” she assured him, while rolling to her feet and prowling the room. She began picking up objects from the counters and weighing them in her hands, trying to decide which would be the best one to use to bash in his head.
The clipboard, once snug in his hand, clattered to the industrial tile. The woman was now fixing him with a determined stare, spouting more gibberish, or maybe the same gibberish. He used all ten of his thumbs to start his tape recorder. His fumbling got her even more worked up and she stepped menacingly forward, wielding a large anatomy book, which she had decided was her weapon of choice.
“Okay sweetheart, just relax,” he soothed, coaxing her to the left so he could reach the locked cabinet holding the sedatives. “It’s all right, I’m just going to get Happy Mister Syringe and fill him with secobarbital and then he’ll help you take a little nap,” he said, as keyed open the cabinet and filled the needle. The singsong voice and fakey smile did the trick well enough for him to get close, but the bite of the needle as the drugs went in made her to panic again and he had large stinging bruises on his head and belly before she slipped into drugged slumber. The doctor slumped against a counter to wheeze for a while and consider his next move.
Jessica Kelly hated doing what she was doing, this waiting, this calmly and patiently waiting in Cohen’s Deli to, yet again, crush Denny’s hopes. He was already forty minutes late and the waiter kept giving her the hairy eyeball because she’d only ordered a small coffee. She really hated getting the hairy eyeball. Just the name made her squirm. Wouldn’t that itch?
Dennis was a genius, so why he couldn’t comprehend the idea that they weren’t going to get back together and move on with his life was unfathomable. It was as if he thought that if he held her favorite scarf and Beatles CDs hostage long enough, she’d forget that he spent the two plus years of their relationship putting her a distant second to his research. It was pretty astonishing that she let herself get into the damn thing in the first place. Being a student of human nature, she should have known he would put the kind of work he did over a relationship. She should have known that if he ever succeeded, he wouldn’t need a woman to have a kid- he could just cook up a perfect little replica of himself over a Bunsen burner.
Spotting the object of her vaguely spiteful musings approaching, she plastered on a smile, in hopes of finally getting to hear The White Album again.
“Hey Kel, glad you made it,” Denny said, settling in across the booth from Jessica. “How are things in the monkey business?”
“I just came because you said you’d bring my things,” came her reply. “You did bring them, right, because, if this is like that thing at the primate house at the zoo, I’m not even staying around for you to apologize for wasting my time.”
“Relax sweetheart, your things are in my car. Though, there is something I’d like to discuss with you,” he said, hoping to pique her interest.
“Oh, here it comes. Listen Denny, whatever you’ve dreamed up in an effort to entice me back into your life, you can just send it back and hope they’ll grant you a refund, because the answer is no, just no!” She waved to the waiter, who gave her another nasty look and went to help another table.
“I’m fairly certain they don’t give refunds for women.”
“You didn’t! Dennis, tell me you didn’t get bombed off your ass and order another teenage, Asian bride online!” she exclaimed.
“Hey, that was a misunderstanding.”
“Of course it was, Denny. Of course it was.”
“So, Kel, you never answered my question. How’s your work with Monty? Learning any great secrets of linguistics and human behavioral development that the other forty-seven anthropologists teaching chimps to sign aren’t?” He never did see the point of her work.
“I’ll have you know, Monty is making great strides, he asked for an orange the other day.”
“Still, he’s not the first signing chimp to crave vitamin C is he?”
“Did you ask me here just to belittle my work? ‘Cause, you could have done that via email and saved yourself the price of my Ruben. Didn’t you mention having something else to talk about?”
“Yes I did. Listen to this.” He pulled out the small tape recorder he kept in his lab and pressed play. A tinny voice leaked from the recorder.
“-clipigende acennen thuseo frithmaeg forhwy breostcearu ebroga beoth herin foclond andsace abide.” He snapped the machine off before the voice finished.
“What is that?”
“Wolf girl,” he replied offhandedly.
“You know, a child raised by wolves.”
“You know I hate when you do this. I know what a wolf child is. What the hell does that have to do with me or with Lotus Blossom, your email-order bride?” She was getting pissed. Why did she let him keep pulling this crap?
“There is no internet bride,” he defended.
“Not anymore, you mean.”
“Kel, listen, they really exist. There are documented cases of children raised by wolf packs.”
“Yes, I know. I took Anthro 101.”
“But nobody’s studying them now, right?” he asked.
“That’s because there hasn’t been a substantiated case in decades and none of them lives very long after they are taken out of their pack.”
“I’ve got one.”
“You’ve got one what? A child who was raised by wolves?”
“Ha, ha, very funny. You’re kidding . . . aren’t you?”
“I could use your help with her. . . . Please.”
“You’re not kidding? Wait Dennis, why do you have her? You’re a biologist. Shouldn’t she be with her family or at least social services or a psych ward or something?”
“I am her family. We aren’t very closely related, but I’m responsible for her welfare.”
“And you want me to work with her?”
“I’m no anthropologist and I’m certainly not the motherly type. Also, there are some aspects of being a woman in civilization that I don’t think I could handle teaching her, if you know what I mean.”
“When can I meet her?”
“Dennis, why do you have her here? The last place she belongs is in a lab. She can’t be comfortable here,” Jessica asked him as they walked into the sterile room where the “wolf girl” lay sleeping.
“Hence her being sedated. The problem is I don’t really have room for her at my place. That, and my building doesn’t allow pets.”
“Sometimes I forget what an ass you are. You could at least try to make the place homey for her. Add some plants. Get her a bed or a cot instead of- what is that- a gurney?”
“It was what was available. It’s not as though she cares. She used to sleep on the ground, remember?”
“Right. So when will her meds wear off? When can I start working with her?”
“Before we do that, we need to set down a few ground rules. One, I’m the one responsible for her, so any and all decisions regarding her fall to me. You’re just a tutor. Two, for both her safety and research purposes, you can’t tell anyone about her. No gloating to your little anthro buddies about this and any notes you make about her need to stay in this lab.”
“Denny, come on. I’m not stupid- you can trust me not to lose my own notes.”
“Three, do not get attached to her. She isn’t your kid, your friend or a cuddly little kitten. To you she’s a research subject and nothing more.”
“Four, do not teach her anything she doesn’t need to know- language, hygiene and good behavior- nothing else!”
“Is that all?”
“Yes, she should be waking any time now.”
“So, what’s her name?”
“Name . . . um, Skyla.”
“Does she respond to it?”
“Uh . . . not yet, no.”
Skyla stirred, shaking off the effects of Happy Mister Syringe. Seeing Dennis, she immediately began ranting and panicking, pulling frantically at her bindings and giving Dennis what for at the top of her lungs.
“She seems to have a good deal of rage towards you. Is she like that with everyone?”
“No, of course not, she . . . I, we didn’t get off to a good start. I’m hoping you’ll do better with her.”
“I should hope so. Maybe if I could work with her alone. Would you mind?”
“Uh, I do have some cytoplasts that need my attention right about now anyway.” He grabbed some notes from the counter and scuttled down the hall to his office. Jessica cautiously approached her new charge.
“Hello, Skyla. My name is Jess. Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you.” Jessica reached for the restraints on Skyla’s wrists. “Let’s see about getting these off of you.”
“Dennis, I have a couple of questions for you,” Jessica said, poking her head around the door of Dennis’ office.
“Well, I can’t tell you much more about her than I already have.”
“Can’t or won’t? Denny, this girl wasn’t raised by wolves, was she?”
“Of course she was. You think she grew up in suburbia? She pees in the corner for God’s sake.”
“Denny, you really should do more research before you choose a cover story. She may not be from around here, but she was raised by humans. There are certain telltale traits common to wolf children and she doesn’t have any of them- the first being that she walks upright. She should be more comfortable walking on all fours as if she were quadrupedal. Second, she’s too healthy- no vitamin deficiencies, no scaring, and no bone deformities. Third, her cognitive ability is too high. Wolf children stall in the pre-verbal stage and stop being able to learn or reason above that level, but she was picking up language by the end of the two hours I worked with her. And finally, she knows things she wouldn’t if she had been isolated from human contact until recently, like what books are for and how to work a button and oh yeah, the little thing called language!
“I haven’t placed which language she’s speaking, but it’s definitely a language. It may be a dialect of German. There are definite patterns like grammar and she’s using consistent vocabulary. This thing stinks, Dennis, so either you tell me who the hell she really is or I’m calling Dean Sandburg and the police.”
“You don’t want to do that, Kel.”
“Tell me why not.”
“You can’t tell anyone, I mean not anyone.”
“Quit stalling, you jackass.”
“All right, she’s a cousin of mine from the Netherlands. She has a rare genetic condition that affects her mental stability and I’m studying her, hoping to isolate the problem gene. The problem is that Homeland Security kinda frowns on bringing foreign mental patients into the country, so she’s not exactly here legally. But you can’t tell anyone, you’ll break my Aunt Grishilde’s heart”
“Didn’t I say quit stalling, jackass?”
“Damn, that one didn’t work either?”
“Maybe with someone else, Denny, but this is me. So let’s have it.”
“Okay, this one’s really the truth. She’s the first successful human clone. I did it, Kel, and she’s perfect, no mutations, a functional level of intelligence and she even seems to have retained some of the memories of the DNA donor. I’m not sure how to explain that, but some portion of memory has to be hard wired into the DNA, which goes against everything we know about genetics and how memory works. It’s unbelievable!”
“She’s a clone? Why is it that the most outlandish explanation is the one I can actually believe? Who is she? I mean, who did you clone?”
“A mummified corpse.”
“A mummy? Wait, she’s obviously not from anywhere near Egypt. She looks right to be speaking German or whatever it is she’s speaking. Where was the mummy from?”
“First century Ireland. She was a peat mummy. Her body was buried in a bog and the unique conditions served to preserve it. I should show you her genome- it’s beautiful. I didn’t need to patch it with any modern samples at all. I’m certain it’s something to do with the conditions in the bog. That and the refinements I’ve made in the replication process.”
“You cloned someone dead, not just dead but ancient? How could you do that? She can’t have any concept of how she got here. She certainly didn’t give you permission to use her DNA.”
“Of course not, Kel, how could she? Listen, it’s not as if she was supposed to have memories of living two thousand years ago. There was no way to anticipate that. That’s why I need your help. Please say you’ll still help me.”
“Yes, I’ll still help- her. Just promise me you won’t clone anyone else.”
Down a long corridor and through a large, steel door from the place Jessica had met Skyla, an abomination stirred in his sleep. The creature awoke from his long drugged slumber. Again. He awoke without pain this time, which was new. Usually, when he woke there was pain- needles and tightened bindings and crushing hands- Big Mans holding him down, bruising his flesh. This time, it was darked and quieted and un-pained. He thought he might still be dreaming, but he could hear himself breathe and feel the cloth against his skin, the bindings around his wrists.
He reached experimentally to scratch the never-satiated itch above his left eye, but the restraints seemed to tighten as he moved. He was not dreaming. When he was dreaming, he could reach to scratch. He pulled harder, knowing the Big Mans would come and push him back down again soon, but his eyebrow itched, so he couldn’t not try.
Once, before the pain, he’d scratched the itch, scratched it good and hard until his fingers were wet and he couldn’t see anymore for the red of the itch flowing out of him. The Little Man had scolded him for it, for ruining his work. He missed the Little Man, missed seeing him, missed having him scold, missed looking at his Little Neck and wondering how far he’d have to bend it to stop the scolding. It was the Little Man who had put him where he was- in the darked, quieted place with the pain, with the itch.
The Big Mans still hadn’t come. Maybe they didn’t know he was awake. Maybe they’d never come again and he’d have to lay there in the darked, quieted, un-pained place with the itching forever. He pulled harder still against the restraints, feeling them cut into his skin. The Little Man would scold if he saw, but he wasn’t there, hadn’t been there for so long. The creature felt the restraints give, thread by thread, loosening and ripping in tiny increments.
Time had never been a concept that the creature could wrap his brain around and so, how long he had to pull and twist the bindings to gain the lassitude to get free, he didn’t know. He only knew the satisfaction of digging his far too short fingernails into the soft flesh above his eye and working, pinching, plucking at it until something small and hard came away in his slick fingers- the itch. He’d found it, excised it, ripped it free and flung it ecstatically across the room and then wondered how something so large under his skin could fall to the ground with so little din. He laid there in the darked and quieted, un-pained, un-itching place and rested, sleeping a natural sleep for the first time in what he would have imagined to be years if he had had any concept of how long a year was.
He didn’t know- he didn’t know, he did not know where to point his sluggish feet, once he’d pushed through the door, leaving the stilled Big Man- one of those wrist bruisers, lying on the floor behind him, behind the shutting door. He took a way that was long- not short, lighted- not darked. Each door he passed had a bit there but not- holes without sound- windows. He dredged the word up from his still sleepy memory. The eyes, his eyes saw him- The Little Man- The Doctor- through the window’s door. No, the door’s window- he saw through windows and pushed through doors. He pushed through the door.
The Little Man was just the same, scolding him for scratching, scolding him for leaving his room, calling for the Big Mans. That stopped when the creature wrapped his hand, the red one, the sticky one- he wrapped it over The Little Man’s mouth. The Little Teeth itched his fingers, but the scolding stopped, so it didn’t matter. A Big Man blocked the door, but the creature pushed through him, dragging The Little Man with him. More Big Mans came, but he pushed through them, too, breaking their needles and the long black tranqs.
He pushed through another door and faced another something, a something not the same- little like The Little Man, but not the same. She was not the same. She was not a man- a woman. He’d seen some of them once, a long time ago, maybe. Maybe some of them had been there before the Big Mans took him to the room, his room- the one The Little Man wanted him to stay in, strapped down in. They’d tasted nice, no, the mouth tastes- they didn’t like his mouth- nose- they’d nosed good- he liked nosing them. Then he didn’t see them any more. They left.
She, this one who stood like a Big Man to be pushed through was one- a nosed good, woman, something. Didn’t, wouldn’t stop him. He pushed. She wouldn’t be pushed through, she pushed him through, down. Down to the dark, again. He pushed up again. She pushed down again. She took The Little Man from him, put The Little Man behind her and pushed the creature down again. He didn’t push up again, no, no- he pulled her with him, nosed her, tasted her and pulled her into the dark with him.
“Kel, I’m glad I caught you,” Dennis huffed, grabbing her roughly by the arm as she entered the building. “We need to talk.” He steered her back towards the exit.
“You’re right, Denny. We need to talk about some of the theories I have. Wait, where are we going? Don’t you want to talk in your office, protect your intellectual property?” she asked, resisting him pulling her out the door.
“Let me buy you lunch. We can talk about the future of the project,” he offered.
“The future of the project? Dennis, what’s going on?” she suspiciously demanded.
“I’d rather not do this here,” he responded pointedly.
“You’re dumping me.”
“You were only a consultant, you know, someone I could trust while I worked out how to proceed. I’m planning on working with a linguist. It really doesn’t make sense for you to stay with the project, especially with our personal history.”
“Our personal history is why you trust me.”
“It’s also why you don’t trust me. How can I head up a project when my second in command second guesses me constantly, Kel?”
“You mean you need someone you can lie to.”
“Come on, Kel. It’s not even your field.”
“She has memories- memories formed 2000 years ago in a society that’s changed drastically since then. That is anthropology- that is my field.”
“Forget it, Dennis. I get it. Just be sure to tell your linguist she’s not speaking Gaelic or anything else from that geographic area.”
“She must have been traveling when she died or maybe her body was moved, because she’s speaking some dialect of Old English- might be West Saxon. It’s definitely related to it.”
“West Saxon? You’re sure?” he asked doubtfully.
“Just take it as the gift that it is,” Jess snapped at him. “I didn’t need to tell you that much.”
“It’s a hell of a thing, her saving you, Dr. Mears,” Cummings, told Dennis as they cleaned up the last of the debris in his office.
“I rather doubt that was her intention,” Dennis reasoned, “She never took to me. I instead think it was a case of two savages coming to blows because fighting is in their nature.”
“I suppose so. It’s too bad you lost her- she was a better subject than the first one. Too bad he wasn’t the one who died.”
“I do have her specs on file- hopefully, I can still get some use out of her. And, 9836-A does have his uses. He’s a wonderful case study for aberrant violent behaviors as directed by genetic code. Nature verses nurture, you see. Once we get him back, we’ll still have uses for him.”
“Of course, I just meant that it’s a shame that losing the female clone set you back six months.”
“Well, I’m hopeful of speeding up the process some.”